Levi – Crash and Burn

The Levitical system had met the priesthood of Melchizedek and there was no compromise

In the last chapter we illustrated how Melchizedek provides the template for Messiah’s role. In addition, Yahweh is reclaiming the divine attributes which are rightfully his alone. We also introduced the holy city Salem or Jerusalem which will become God’s capital city on earth. Perhaps you saw the connection from the last chapter that the dual roles of Melchizedek as both priest and a king provides the template for both of those roles being embodied in Jesus. Don’t we see this same model in how Adam was originally designed, his purpose was to represent God on earth and rule over creation? As we’ve mentioned before God is restoring all things, so it’s not surprising to see Jesus as the second Adam fulfill both of these roles. Consider this prophetic text from Zechariah:

‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Here is the man called the Branch. He will branch out from where he is and build the Temple of the Lord. Yes, he will build the Temple of the Lord. Then he will receive royal honor and will rule as king from his throne. He will also serve as priest from his throne, and there will be perfect harmony between his two roles.’
Zechariah 6:12-13

What are some other clues that Melchizedek provides about this coming priest/king. We know he will have a theophoric name, he will have both a human and divine role, his roles will be perfectly harmonized within one person, he will bless the descendants of Abraham and he will even show up unexpectedly to meet our needs. Let’s drill into this last one a bit.

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Kedorlaomer and allied kings journey through the fertile crescent

In the Midst of My Enemies
Kings from the east held portions of Canaan as vassal territory or what we might call vassal city-states. (Gen. 14) Kedorlaomer was one such ruler who had subjugated the people of Sodom, Gomorrah and surrounding territory for twelve years. When the Canaanite kings decided to stand for their independence Kedorlaomer assembled a coalition of allied kings to undermine the rebellion. In the graphic you’ll see the journey along the fertile crescent these kings likely followed in their invasion of Canaan. Abram’s nephew Lot, his family and possessions along with the people of these vassal city-states were captured in the ensuing battle.

Recall that Abram and Lot had separated because their herdsmen were arguing over water rights (Gen. 13). Trusting in God’s provision, Abram did not contend for the best of the land, he freely gave Lot the first choice. Now with the latest turn of events Lot had been carried away as the spoils of war.

Remembering Abram’s prior encounter with Yahweh, he had been given all the land of Canaan. Now that inheritance was being challenged by these foreign invaders and furthermore, they had captured his own nephew. It was time for war! But these were armies and kings, trained warriors and Abrams household was hardly battled hardened fighting men. They were herdsmen and sojourners. Against overwhelming odds, Abram along with 318 men pursued the raiders who were led by an alliance of four kings.  Under Abram’s leadership they overtook the marauders and managed to defeat them and returned from battle with the recovered people and plunder.  It was at this point that Abram was met by two individuals; the King of Sodom, who’s city had been pillaged, and the enigmatic Melchizedek who provided a meal and a blessing. 

Bread and Wine
As a profile of Christ, Melchizedek carries attributes which are both natural and spiritual (priest of God / earthly king) allowing him to bridge the gap between heaven and earth. For this reason he can bring the blessing of God to Abram.  The meal (bread and wine)1 which he served to Abram and his men after the battle provided refreshment and foreshadowed the covenant meal shared by Jesus with his disciples at the last supper.  Said another way, we can view the Lords’ service of bread and wine at the last supper as an invitation into the renewed covenant of Abraham originally instituted by Melchizedek. What an amazing early picture of Christ the Messiah!

Fresh Revelation
During the same encounter with Abram, Melchizedek spoke these words of blessing.

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you.”
Genesis 14:19-20

After receiving the blessing and some much needed nourishment, Abram presented Melchizedek with a portion of the recovered plunder. But the king of Sodom began making demands on Abram. Let’s notice Abram’s response.

The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give back my people who were captured. But you may keep for yourself all the goods you have recovered.”  Abram replied to the king of Sodom, “I solemnly swear to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich.’ 
Genesis 14:21-23

We see that Abram responded to the King of Sodom (representing the world system) with the revelation of God he’d just received. Abram had received revelation that God was not just another polytheistic deity; on the contrary he was Most High and Creator of all. When the king of Sodom began making demands Abram connected this new revelation with the Lord he already knew. Notice the synergy taking place in these words. Abram knew Yahweh as the “Lord” who called him out of Ur of the Chaldees, but Melchizedek knew him as God Most High, the Creator. At this point Abram understood that the one who called him as Lord is the Most High and creator of all things. It was out of this revelation that he responded to the worlds demands. This is an early picture of how we are to interact with the world in which we live – responding to its demands out of our understanding and revelation for who God is. 

This lays the foundation for understanding God’s character and developing an intimate walk with him.  It is out of that experience that we can respond to the worlds demands.  The behavior of Melchizedek toward Abraham is a foreshadowing of God’s favor toward us as descendants (Gal. 3:29) of Abraham. We now understand why Abraham is the father of our faith; he received the promises, the blessing and even went to war against all odds – all this done by faith in a God he was just beginning to know. No wonder God chose him as the father of our faith.

The following song inspired by Psalm 110 points to this dual role of our coming King.
Priest-King …… based on Psalm 110, used with permission
by Jason Silver

All the benefits delivered to Abram were never revoked: the promise, blessing, covenant, the land, Jerusalem, the priesthood and the coming kingdom. Even during the time of the Mosaic system the Abrahamic covenant existed side by side. And although God was angered by his people and sent them into Babylonian captivity he did not forget his covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants. All that Yahweh had said will be fulfilled in time.

God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
Listen, I received a command to bless; God has blessed, and I cannot reverse it!

Numbers 23:19

The Way of Faith
We believe that he exists and he rewards those who seek him. Isn’t this exactly what Abram did when God spoke to him about his descendants?  He believed God and it was counted as righteousness.  Abram’s whole life was a series of God speaking to him and his believing and taking God at his word.  Did he screw up at times – yes, absolutely. He lied several times about his wife being his sister, he had multiple wives, tried to help God out with the birth of Ishmael, etc. But in spite of his multiple human failures, his loyalty was to Yahweh and he took him at his word.

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
Hebrews 11:6

Once we are convinced that he exists, we seek him, listen for his voice, watch his manners and study his eyes – when we recognize his leading, we follow it – confident that he will reward us.  This is how Abraham the father of our faith lived.  Abraham’s moral and ethical failures were not counted against him.  It’s incredible that this passage from Hebrews does not mention works, good deeds or righteous behavior.  The thing which pleases God is a belief that he exists and that he rewards those who pursue him.  When this is the desire of our life our behavior cannot help but be transformed, but it is God through his spirit doing the work in us and our hearts and minds cooperating with him.  How is it that he rewards us?  Well certainly he has promised to be with us and meet our needs, but the real reward is that he changes us – we become like him – back to God’s original design for Adam and Eve – made in his image and reflecting his glory!

God’s Love Toward the Gentiles
At the risk of oversimplifying, hopefully, we are beginning to see a distinction between the ministration of two very different priesthoods.  
It is important to understand that God never abolished the Abrahamic covenant nor the priesthood of Melchizedek on which it was based.  On the contrary, the priesthood of Melchizedek and Levi existed side by side until the fulfillment of both through Israel’s long awaited Messiah. God established the covenant of grace in seed form through Melchizedek long before the law was given on Mt. Sinai.  He then began to manifest it through multiple Gentile converts (who knew nothing of the law) in the Old Testament until the full picture unfolded in the gospels.  In addition to Gentile converts in the Old Testament (mentioned in an earlier chapter)  consider two prophetic scriptures concerning the Gentiles.  

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles…..
Isaiah 42:6

It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Isaiah 49:6

Isaiah is picking up on the promise given to Abraham that through his descendants all nations (think Gentiles) will be blessed? The two priesthoods (Melchizedek and Levi) were operating in parallel, side by side, during this period.  When reading scriptures about the mystery of God, his foreknowledge or how he is the same yesterday today and forever we can have a fuller appreciation for his marvelous ways.

In an earlier chapter we discussed how the priesthood changed from the Old to the New Testament and because of this change the law also had to change Heb. 7:11-12 since it was based on the priesthood.  This really is the heart of the New Testament – the priesthood changed and as a result, so did the law.  If we grasp this singular point, we will make a giant leap in understanding the difference between Old and New Testament.

Perhaps the reason for the constant friction between Jesus and the religious leaders is becoming apparent.  The Pharisees and Sadducee’s were still operating under the priesthood of Levi not realizing that both the priesthood and the law had now changed.  We now know that Jesus is not operating under the old system but under the order of Melchizedek. Does this not shed clarity on the conflicts with the religious leaders.  It was the clash of two priesthoods.  The Messiah was operating under a different priesthood and a different law, one which pre-dated Levi.  The religious leaders were operating under the priesthood of Levi and the law of Moses.  The first-century religious leaders did not comprehend the change in priesthood which had occurred and this led to recurring conflict. 

Jesus Takes up the Family Business
With the incarnation of Christ and the beginning of his public ministry, God is unveiling the next step in his marvelous plan.  This seems to be what occurred during the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan river.  Heaven opened, and God was declaring (for all the world to see) that Jesus was indeed his son.  Recall that Jesus had been growing in wisdom and stature,  in favor with God and man, studying the scriptures and learning what it meant to be a man in first century Israel.  The second half of this passage is enlightening as the father is acknowledging that the Son is taking up the Father’s mission on the earth.

The statement, “Today I have become your father,” implies that Jesus is accepting the Fathers’ purpose, goals, and mission in the earth.  This is the mission that has been in the Father’s heart since the beginning.  After receiving the Father’s blessing on his life and accepting this high calling, he is immediately taken into the wilderness for testing.  This is the enemy’s way of challenging the Messiahs coming into his life purpose and the Father allowed this to happen.  You will notice that after the wilderness temptation the Lord’s public ministry began.  This sequence beautifully shows the Father’s blessing, the Son taking on the Father’s ministry in the earth, his calling being challenged by the adversary, and he then moves forward to extend the Father’s rule and reign.

Hebrews confirms Jesus taking up the Fathers’ plan according to the original priesthood.  

And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
Hebrews 5:6
; Hebrews 7:17-17

Maintain the Status Quo?
Why did the religious leaders of the first century react so strongly against Christ’s message?  They were rabbis, lawyers, or “spiritually enlightened ones”.  They knew the Torah’s (5 books of Moses) requirements and as wise spiritual umpires they called out the righteous and the unrighteous in accordance with their traditions.  Along came the son of a carpenter who begins to upset a well-oiled religious machine.  He has re-introduced the priesthood of Melchizedek and is undoing the Levitical system.  People no longer perform religious duties to receive the touch of God or his blessing in their lives.  It’s no wonder Saul was arresting these followers of “The Way,”  since the entire system was at stake and there was no time to be timid or fainthearted.  This heretical movement must be stopped immediately.

Despite the conflict, there are those in the gospel record who got a glimpse of what righteousness without works looked and felt like.  Think of the woman at the well, the ten lepers, the thief on the cross or the woman caught in adultery.  Did any of them offer a year-old male lamb before being blessed by heaven’s smile?  In the New Testament, under the priestly ministry of Melchizedek through Christ, God is the initiator.  The work is God’s and any gift, act or charity we provide is a response to the compassion and mercy he offers.

As we leave this chapter, consider the profound encounter between Caiaphas, the high priest, and Jesus the high priest in Mathew 26:57-66.  Caiaphas was the high priest of the Levitical system and Jesus the high priest according to Melchizedek.  When Caiaphas demanded of Jesus, “Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”  Jesus responded by combining two commonly understood Messianic prophecies (from Psalms and Daniel), “You have said it. And in the future, you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”   The first part of his response is from the beginning of Psalm 110 and the second part is from Daniel 7:13  regarding when the Lord will establish his rule and reign on the earth. 

Jesus combined these two Old Testament messianic prophecies together in responding to Caiaphas.  These scriptures show dual role of king and priest which the high priest understood that the Messiah would fulfill.  There would have been absolutely no confusion in the mind of Caiaphas what Jesus meant by his answer. He was declaring the he himself would be the one to fill the seats of both Abraham and David as priest and king.  This explains the extreme reaction of Caiaphas tearing his robes in horror and declaring “blasphemy”.  The Levitical system had met the priesthood of Melchizedek and there was no compromise.

 

1 Much could be said about the significance of bread and wine in the scriptures, but we’ll have to leave that for a separate study.

Meditation and discussion

In this chapter, we saw how Abram responded to the king of Sodom.  Does spiritual revelation change me and the way in which I respond to life?

What changed moving from the Old to New Testament?

Do I spend most of my life living under the priesthood of Levi or Melchizedek?  What adjustments can I make?

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